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March 12, 2012

Afghanistan Kumbaya

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This cover has been on my mind since it appeared in early February. It shows US and Afghan soldiers posing together at an outpost in Helmand Province in a wishful suggestion of alliance and comradeship.

If the lengthy cover article – based on an embed with Echo Company, Second Battalion, Fourth Marines — dares to hope the Afghan Army might maintain its effectiveness after America leaves, a companion blog interview with the author sounds more skeptical. One experiences the same contradiction looking at the photo itself. If the intention of these individuals is commendable, what of the larger strategy?

I have to say, I was already feeling manipulated by this photo upon its publication in early February. I felt more manipulated by it after the drone strike that killed those children in Eastern Afghanistan just a few days later. I felt still more manipulated when anti-American riots broke out in Kabul and other cities two weeks after that following the admission that the U.S. military had inadvertently incinerated copies of the Koran. And again I recalled the photo, and felt still more manipulated by it yesterday upon news that a berserk American soldier had massacred up to sixteen Afghani citizens and children in Panjwai.

If “The War Ends Here” means the campaign hinges on the capacity of Americans and Afghanis to forge a true partnership, that makes sense. Unfortunately, the portrait seems to speak to the exception.

(photo: Joël van Houdt for The New York Times. Who’s Who on the Cover.)

  • Mjstanl

    The war I have heard Obama, and Panetta, speak of has no logical end point. Americans, and especially those who call themselves Democrats, surprisingly, to me, anyway, seem–all things relative–fine with that. 

  • bks

    The landscape in the picture is a perfect metaphor.  Where is the enemy?  Right there in the foreground.

        –bks

  • Stella

    At first sight, I figured they were all Americans.  But then I have to wonder why some guys are stuck wearing the useless jungle camouflage.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jaime-Oria/100000803147037 Jaime Oria

       In point of fact, the ” guys…stuck wearing the useless jungle camouflage” are the Afghani soldiers.  I don’t know too very much about specific camo patterns, but it definitely isn’t American ‘woodland’ pattern from the 1960s thru 1980s.  So it’s not as if the Pentagon is using up their outdated stock equipping an ostensible ally.  It’s probably current, but it’s also quite inappropriate for the terrain depicted.

  • Troutcor

    I think this cover – and the reaction to atrocities like this weekend’s massacre – say a lot about the triumph of the “embed” strategy adopted by the Pentagon. Obviously, the US was already moving toward an unquestioning rah-rah approach to military adventurism, as republics in decline always do. But the clever decision to get the reporting done through soldiers’ eyes precludes any chance that the media will seriously question the purpose of the overall mission. The overall morality or efficacy of the mission has become secondary to touchy-feely emotional stories about the challenges “our men and women” face in the military. Even with a massacre, the media narrative is about what it is like for a soldier to face repeated deployments, hostile “locals” and the like. The real issue – what the hell we are doing there – is all but forgotten.
    P.S. people in Afghanistan are “Afghans,” not “Afghanis.” A minor point, perhaps, but after 10 years maybe we could learn the proper name for the people we are shooting.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jaime-Oria/100000803147037 Jaime Oria

       I’ve seen both usages in different texts, so I don’t know for certain.  Given that there are Pashtuns, Tajiks and other ethnic groups with their own languages and dialects within the borders of what’s called Afghanistan, I’m willing to bet that they don’t entirely agree on what to call themselves in a nation-state context, either, let alone how to transcribe it into the roman alphabet.  But thanks for stepping off your high horse and educating me.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jaime-Oria/100000803147037 Jaime Oria

       I’ve seen both usages in different texts, so I don’t know for certain.  Given that there are Pashtuns, Tajiks and other ethnic groups with their own languages and dialects within the borders of what’s called Afghanistan, I’m willing to bet that they don’t entirely agree on what to call themselves in a nation-state context, either, let alone how to transcribe it into the roman alphabet.  But thanks for stepping off your high horse and educating me.

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